A true collector of the Kelmscott Press

As I was happily working away on some of our Kelmscott Press books, I discovered this wonderfully detailed bookplate in a copy of William Morris’s The roots of the mountains. Although we have yet to learn the identity of Robert Hall, the plate certainly suggests that he was an enthusiastic collector of Kelmscott publications.

On the library table are copies of several well-known Kelmscott works, including  William Morris’s The glittering plain and his 1895 translation of Beowulf. All the books are clearly bound in the distinctive Kelmscott full limp vellum tied with silk ribbons; The wood beyond the world is open to show a Morris-designed woodcut border and frontispiece.

Leaning against the bookcase is a copy of the 1896 edition of Chaucer, the most important publication from the Kelmscott Press and arguably the greatest of all the private press books. If this delightful bookplate provides us with an accurate glimpse into Robert Hall’s private library, then he was indeed a true collector of Kelmscott.

3 responses to “A true collector of the Kelmscott Press

  1. Nicholas Willmott

    We also have a copy of this Robert Hall bookplate, and think we can come up with a plausible identification of the owner.

    I note that the cathedral visible through the study window appears to be that at Salisbury. The Mayor of Salisbury, 1907-8, was Robert Michael Hall, a solicitor by profession, born in 1864. He appears in the 1911 census living at 62, Harnham Road and signs his declaration ‘Robert Hall’, without his middle name. Reference to Google maps shows that Salisbury Cathedral is plainly visible, across the Avon and open ground, from the back of 62, Harnham Road.

    William Gaskell’s ‘Wiltshire Leaders: social and political’, 1906, references Hall’s “omnivorous love of reading, which has made him one of the most cultured citizens of the intellectual centre of Wilts.”

    The obscurity of Hall’s collection may have something to do with the fact that in 1913 he was declared bankrupt and, even worse, was accused of making free with his clients’ money. In January 1914, at the Wiltshire assizes, he was convicted of fraudulently converting for his own use some £4,500. He was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment and, in March, was struck off the roll of solicitors.

    He is to be found in the 1939 Register, living with his wife in Rochester, Kent, employed in an administrative, rather than professional, role as a “solicitors managing clerk”. He died in Barnstaple, his wife’s home town, on 14th October 1948.

    If this identity is correct, as suggested by time, place and circumstances, the costliness of his library may have had some connection with his downfall.

    Nick Willmott
    Cardiff

    • Bravo Nick!

      Here’s another bit of evidence supporting your theory regarding Hall’s identity:

      The brief biography cited above (William Gaskell’s ‘Wiltshire Leaders: social and political’, 1906) also states: “Not ignoring the claims of physical culture Mr. Hall has always kept up his early love for the fine old game of cricket.”

      Leaning up against the bookcase, behind the Kelmscott Chaucer, is a cricket bat.

      By the way, as many have no doubt noticed by now, the book to the left on the table is Morris’s “News from Nowhere” (title on spine).

      But who is represented in the bust at the top right corner? It certainly looks characteristic enough to be identifiable. Not Hall himself (comparison with a portrait from the above source rules him out)… not Morris…

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